Malaysian human rights body: No evidence state involved in pastor-couple’s abduction

Suganya Lingan
2022.04.15
Kuala Lumpur
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Malaysian human rights body: No evidence state involved in pastor-couple’s abduction Iman Sitepu shows a picture of his sister, Ruth Sitepu, and her husband, Joshua Hilmy, during an inquiry at the Malaysian Human Rights Commission office in Kuala Lumpur about their 2016 disappearance, March 4, 2020.
S. Mahfuz/BenarNews

There is no evidence that the state was involved in the enforced disappearance of pastors Joshua Hilmy and Ruth Sitepu in 2016, the Human Rights Commission of Malaysia (Suhakam) said in a report released Friday, but it blamed police for shortcomings in their investigation and withholding related information.

Suhakam released its 90-page report three years after it issued a finding that police agents likely were behind the abductions of Pastor Raymond Koh and social activist Amri Che Mat in 2017 and 2016.

“After having held lengthy discussions and deliberations in this case, the panel is of the unanimous view that Joshua Hilmy and Ruth Sitepu are victims of enforced disappearance,” the report said.

It concluded that the couple were abducted by “person or persons unknown.”

Suhakam commissioner Mohd Hishamudin Yunus, who read an excerpt from the report during a news conference on Friday, discussed the government’s role.

“On a balance of probabilities and based on the evidence presented before the panel, there was no direct or circumstantial evidence to support the contention that Joshua Hilmy and Ruth Sitepu were abducted by an agent of the state,” Hishamudin said.

“However, it was the panel’s finding that the highly unsatisfactory conduct and shortcomings of the Royal Malaysia Police in investigating the disappearances of Joshua Hilmy and Ruth Sitepu had contributed to the acquiescence of the state in the abduction of the couple,” he said.

Suhakam noted that police refused to divulge relevant documents and information about the case, citing the Official Secrets Act.

Because of the police shortcomings, the couple were not protected under the law, the report said.

Hilmy, a Malaysian Muslim who converted to Christianity in Singapore in 2003, and his wife, Sitepu, an Indonesian national, were last seen in November 2016.

During that same period, Pastor Koh and activist Amri went missing in February 2017 and in November 2016, respectively.

Previously, Suhakam had found that Koh and Amri were victims of enforced disappearances likely involving government agents.

“The direct and circumstantial evidence in Pastor Raymond Koh’s case proves, on a balance of probabilities, that he was abducted by state agents,” Suhakam said on April 3, 2019.

That report used similar language to speculate that Amri could have been abducted by state agents, particularly those under the police Special Branch headquartered in Kuala Lumpur.

Suhakam has reported that Hilmy, Sitepu and Koh were involved in proselytizing Muslims to Christianity, which is not allowed in Malaysia. It also said Amri was a leader of an Islamic sect –Shia – that is not accepted in Malaysia.

Indonesia: Ruth Sitepu victim of enforced disappearance

Responding to the report, the Indonesian government said that Malaysia needed to step up efforts to investigate the disappearance of its national, Ruth Sitepu, and it should heed Suhakam’s recommendations.

“Ruth Sitepu has fallen victim to enforced disappearance that should be considered as a serious crime by any standards,” the statement said.

“Indonesia is of the view that the Malaysian government must take necessary actions according to the recommendation, particularly in conducting a more thorough investigation and bringing the perpetrator to justice,” the statement said.

Suhakam’s recommendations include police earnestly and seriously stepping up investigations into the case, taking into account the criticisms and the recommendations that the committee make in the report; and sharing relevant documents in investigation papers with Suhakam or any other competent bodies with investigative powers unless it is clearly and strongly proven that such disclosure would be prejudicial to the on-going probe.

The panel also urged authorities to respect freedom of religion as a basic human right and reminded that the federal constitution prohibits the propagation of any religious doctrine or belief among persons professing the religion of Islam.

Family: ‘We just want closure’

Sitepu’s family, meanwhile, issued a statement noting that Suhakam’s inquiry gave a small measure of relief, but did not shed light on what happened to the couple.

“People do not just disappear without a trace. We strongly believe there are people who know what happened to our sister and Joshua,” the statement said. “We depend on the authorities and various government agencies to undertake their sworn duty and assignments diligently to help us.

We just want closure. Surely this is not too much to ask? If they are indeed dead, please return her body or her bones, even, to us. It is only the right, decent thing to do.”

The Royal Malaysia Police did not immediately respond to a BenarNews request for comment.

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